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Philip STOPFORD (b.1977)
Lord’s Prayer (1996) [1.55]
For the beauty of the Earth (2003) [3.14]
Renaissance Jubilate (2006) [2.31]
Episcopal Jubilate (2007) [2.50]
Teach me, O Lord (2007) [3.51]
Hope (2007) [6.57]*
Drop, drop, slow tears (2007) [3.03]
Once in Royal David’s city (2007) [3.38]
Lully, lulla, lullay (2008) [5.03]
A Christmas blessing (2008) [2.55]
Sans Day Carol (2009) [3.12]
I wonder as I wander (2010) [4.10]
Ave Regina caelorum (2010) [4.34]
Do not be afraid (2010) [5.06]
Born in a stable (2010) [4.34]
Truro Evening Canticles (2011) [7.26]
The spirit of the Lord (2011) [5.44]
Collect for the Queen (2012) [3.19]
Luke Bond (organ), *James Robinson (timpani)
Choir of Truro Cathedral/Christopher Gray
rec. no details supplied
REGENT REGCD 400 [74.12] 

The back of this CD refers to Stopford as a ‘prolific’ composer. Given the sheer volume of work produced in a five-year period featured on this disc the description can only be regarded as accurate. There are some real gems among this music, composed in a preponderantly neo-romantic and melodic style and adhering closely to the principles of tonality - Do not be afraid is composed almost entirely in the key of D major. Some of the carols even employ the traditional tunes, as in Once in Royal David’s city and the Sans Day Carol; others, such as I wonder as I wander, substitute new and less effective melodies. Best of these carols is Lully, lulla, lullay, where the homophonic setting has echoes of both Holst and Warlock; most innovative of the other pieces is Hope, where the beating of timpani underlines the text describing the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September 2001. The treatment of the words here lacks passion, not helped by the assignment of the majority of the poem to a boy treble - well as Archie Hooper sings - rather than a mature singer. On this disc Stopford’s music is entirely religious; even where the texts set are not Biblical, the poetry has Christian significance. He always manages to treat the words with imagination, even when his choice reflects earlier treatments - The spirit of the Lord has decided echoes of Elgar’s setting, and is none the worse for that. There are many jewels here, among which the unaccompanied Truro Canticles are among the most imaginative. The delightful setting of Collect for the Queen has a chiselled beauty. The singing of the choir, set in the wonderful acoustic of Truro Cathedral, is beyond praise. The well-balanced organ provides fireworks where needed.
 
One must however question the wisdom of collecting so many small individual pieces by one composer on a single disc. This serves only to point up the relatively small compass of the music itself. Stopford’s models - not only from the English twentieth century, but also from Rachmaninov’s liturgical music in his setting of Ave Regina Coelorum - are well observed. His use of them goes well beyond simple imitation but this is not a disc to be listened to at a single sitting, rather one to be dipped into at different times. As I have indicated, there are some real gems here.
 
The booklet also claims this is the first CD devoted “entirely to his music from a cathedral choir” which is true as far as it goes but overlooks the existence of a number of previous discs from the Ecclesium Choir on the Priory label again of music entirely by Stopford. Those contain a largely different collection of pieces, again all on religious texts. Listening to a selection of some of those CDs, one finds a more adventurous sense of harmony and a greater variety. On the other hand there is also less music that is as sheerly beautiful as some of the items on this newer collection. It is interesting to note that the earlier version of Lullay, lulla conducted by the composer is nearly a minute quicker than that here (that is, 20% faster); the slower speed on the new recording brings out the beauty of the harmonies more effectively than the composer himself. Oddly enough only one of these earlier CDs ever appears to have been treated to a published review, where in Organists’ Review Andrew Fletcher drew attention to Stopford’s commitment as “quite overwhelming”. Although the works on that CD only contained two of the same pieces as on this new CD - neither of which Fletcher mentions - one can only agree with that assessment.
 
With the warning that musical indigestion may result from continuous listening, the current disc is warmly greeted.  

Paul Corfield Godfrey 


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